2018 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas International Spectacle Returns to Austin for Seventh Year

Text & Photos by Matt Wetzler.

When it was first announced that Austin would be coming to the Formula 1 calendar it sort of came out of nowhere. First run in 2012, the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas has swiftly become one of the drivers favorite tracks on the calendar testing their technical driving ability throughout, and providing more opportunities to overtake—or pass—other cars than most other races throughout the world. This also results in it being one of the more entertaining than a lot of other races because—much like the Texas weather on display for the 2018 USGP—if you don't like it, stick around and it'll change.

Friday's practice sessions were inundated with periodic rain resulting in a limited number of laps for many drivers and teams as they were forced to use Pirelli's 'intermediate' and 'wet' rated tires which displace upwards of 30 liters of water every second.

Each race weekend primarily takes place over three days with two practice sessions on Friday, one practice and a qualifying session on Saturday to determine the starting grid order for the race, which takes place on Sunday.

Haas F1's Romain Grosjean heads through turn 13 during Friday's FP1.
Left to Right from Top: Red Bull Racing's Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren's Fernando Alonso, Haas F1's Kevin Magnussen, and Racing Point Force India's Sergio Perez.
Force India performing pit stop practice on Saturday morning.
Cars kicking up dramatic amounts of spray during FP2 on Friday afternoon after the first 45 minutes of the session were drenched in a steady, moderate rain.
Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing signs autographs during Saturday's first autograph session.

Off-Track Activities

Just because the racing is naturally the focus of the weekend, it doesn't mean its the only thing going on. Each year the event promoters try to provide plenty of things to do while the main event isn't taking place such as autograph sessions that allow the suitably motivated to get up-close to their favorite drivers, race simulators that let you test your skills driving around Circuit of the Americas in a videogame format and compete against others, a pit stop challenge to see how close you can get to the 2-second pit stops the teams perform during the race, among many other activities. 2018 also featured live music from local musicians like Austin's Nakia throughout the day, and major performances from Bruno Mars and Britney Spears in the evening.

Activities found in and around the FanZone including Formula 1 race simulators, local performers, photo opportunities, the pit stop challenge, zip-lining, and go karting.
Drivers meeting fans during Saturday's first autograph session. Clockwise from top: Williams' Lance Stroll, Ferrari's Kimi Raikonnen, Williams' Sergey Sirotkin, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, and Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen.
Fans holding a wide variety of souvenirs in hopes of getting them signed and meeting their favorite drivers.
Exemplifying the international nature Formula 1, attendees come from all over the world and display their national pride proudly.
Somewhat unique with regards to other large events that take place in and around Austin is that the vendors provide a good mix of local, regional, and national brands almost guaranteeing everyone can find something they like.

Free Practice 3

Saturday's FP3 provided plenty of action for the crowds that really began to show up with the rain holding off for the duration. Every team took advantage by having both of their cars on track for almost the entire time to make up for time lost to the rain on Friday.

Cars speed through turns 16 through 19 during Saturdays free practice 3. Left to right from top: Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikonnen, Fernando Alonso and Valterri Bottas, Romain Grosjean, and Kevin Magnussen.
Lewis Hamilton exits turn 10 with the iconic COTA Tower in the background as Daniel Ricciardo looms in the background during Saturday's qualifying session.
From Top: A Ferrari scrapes its floor through 'the esses,' Lewis Hamilton and Kevin Magnussen speed through turn 5, Stoffel Vandoorne crests the hill at turn 10, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton exit turn 5, and Charles Leclerc exits turn 1 during qualifying.
The floor of Kimi Raikonnen's Ferrari shoots sparks as it scrapes on the uneven tarmac through turns 5 and 6.

Pre-Race Festivities

Like most major sporting events there is a fair amount of pre-event pomp and circumstance. A pre-race drivers parade is a staple of race day, but the USGP taking place in Texas naturally includes a couple of signature Texas twists which include the University of Texas Longhorns marching band and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Drivers arrive on track for the drivers parade which featured them being driven around the track in classic cars owned by area owners.
The University of Texas Longhorn Band

The Race

The narrative for this years Grand Prix was the assumption that Lewis Hamilton would be clinching his 5th drivers championship, only needing to earn eight more points than rival Sebastian Vettel to do so. And once he qualified as the pole sitter and Vettel was starting the race fifth due to a rules violation in the first practice it seemed all but sealed. However Kimi Raikonnen had an incredible start, overtaking Hamilton in turn one, and would go on to win his first race since 2013.

Kimi Raikonnen
Scenes from the race
Kimi Raikonnen removes himself from the car and shoots a thumbs up to the crowd for his first race victory in 113 races.
From top: Max Verstappen celebrates his second place finish with his garage team, Kimi Raikonnen, Max Verstappen, and Lewis Hamilton receiving their trophies, and a podium group photo.
The scrum around parc ferme full of media, fans, and teams.

In addition to being the only U.S. stop on the Formula 1 calendar—and only one of fours races in North and South America—Circuit of the Americas also hosts the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas, World Rally Cross races, the IMSA series, and will host its first IndyCar race in March of 2019.

This essay was shot on assignment for Texas Highways magazine, the official travel magazine of Texas.

Created By
Matthew Wetzler


All photos copyright Matthew Wetzler/Thewmatt Photography.

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